The word tagine has two meanings. First, it refers to a type of North African cookware traditionally made of clay or ceramic. The bottom is a wide, shallow circular dish used for both cooking and serving, while the top of the tagine is distinctively shaped into a rounded dome or cone.
Second, the word tagine refers to the succulent, stew-like dish which is slow-cooked in the traditional cookware. Typically, a tagine is a rich stew of meat, poultry or fish, and most often includes vegetables or fruit.
Vegetables may also be cooked alone.
Where to Buy a Tagine
Although tagines are traditionally made of clay or ceramic, some Western cookware companies are now making tagines from other materials. Where to Buy Tagines Online will give you an idea of where to buy both traditional and modern tagine styles.
Ceramic and Clay Tagines in Morocco
The use of ceramics in Moroccan cooking is probably a Roman influence. Romans were known for their ceramics and likely brought that tradition to their rule of Roman Africa. Today, ceramic tagines are practical yet exquisite examples of Moroccan artisanship, and many are show pieces as well as functional cooking vessels. Some tagines, however, are intended only to be used as decorative serving dishes.
Unglazed clay tagines are favored by many cooks for the unique earthy nuance they impart to dishes. Like their glazed counterparts, they come in all sizes; the smallest might hold enough food for one or two people, while the largest can hold a meal for eight people or more.
Moroccan Tagines or Stews
Tagines are primarily used to slow-cook savory stews and vegetable dishes. Because the domed or cone-shaped lid of the tagine traps steam and returns the condensed liquid to the pot, a minimal amount of water is needed to cook meats and vegetables to buttery tenderness. This method of cooking is very practical in areas where water supplies are limited or where public water is not yet available, and it helps tenderize inexpensive cuts of meat.
The traditional method of cooking with a tagine is to place the tagine over coals. Large bricks of charcoal are purchased specifically for their ability to stay hot for hours. Smaller pieces of charcoal are reserved for cooking brochettes and other grilled meats.
Using a Tagine at Home
Before using a tagine for the first time, you'll want to season it. How to Season a Tagine explains how to do this and offers tips on caring for the tagine. Also, see How Do You Use a Tagine? for tips on how to cook in the clay or ceramic vessel.
You can try cooking a tagine over charcoal (be sure to leave adequate space between the coals and the tagine or the temperature will be too high), but it's okay to use a tagine in a slow oven or place it on a stove top, using the lowest heat necessary to keep the stew simmering gently. Because the bottom of the tagine should not come in direct contact with its heat source, a diffuser – a circular piece of aluminum placed between the tagine and burner – is required if not cooking over a gas flame or charcoal.